Life’s a beach in the Seychelles
If you, ahem, shell out on a trip to the lovely 100-island archipelago of the Seychelles, escape the resorts and go island-hopping
There are only so many really awful covers of Lady in Red and My Heart Will Go On that one man can take. And that number is eight. After eight, the saccharine sweetness played out on 1970s synths begins to wear dangerously thin. And judging from the dead-eyed expressions on the faces of the handful of miserable-looking couples stilling lingering in the hotel lobby with me, I am not alone.
The Seychelles is well-known as a honeymooner’s delight, right up there with the Maldives and Mauritius as a loved-up paradise. And it deserves its place of in that pantheon of post-nuptial bliss. There are stunning beaches and warm, crystal clear waters teeming with exotic fish to be gawped at – or eaten depending on your mood or the time of day.
The weather is perfect year round and there are dozens of high-end hotels offering breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean, infinity pools as far as the eye can see and staff whose only job, it seems, is to sprinkle rose petals on duvets and deposit bottles of champagne and fruit hampers in the rooms of happy couples.
However, the mawkish “entertainment” that hotels seem duty-bound to put on every single night is a black spot. Very occasionally you might catch sight of a lone couple smooching to a house band crucifying Chris de Burgh; more often they play for an audience of none. Nevertheless, they keep going and, near, far or, indeed, wherever you are, their songs will go on. And on. And on. Luckily, such soulless tunes are only a minor distraction from the holy trinity of sunshine, sea and, ahem, shells which sees people spend big to holiday here – expect no change out of five grand for a two-week trip. Many such people seem content to stay put on in a single resort but that’s a mistake. Island-hopping Seychelles style is simple and allows you to feel you have visited a country rather than a lavishly appointed, hideously expensive hotel.
The Seychelles is made up of over 100 islands . Victoria, the capital, is “the smallest capital in the world” as locals never tire of saying. It is probably no bigger than Galway and its main attractions can be reached on foot in an easy morning. Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market sells all manner of trinkets including cheap spices and exotic painted shells that will delight you until you have to bring the ever so delicate and ridiculously heavy things through customs.
The market is aimed at the trickle of tourists which pass under its heavy wooden awnings, but it also serves as the heart of the community where locals come to buy their fish and vegetables. This lends it an authenticity, and an aroma, not to be found anywhere else on the archipelago.
Takamaka Bay rum is found all over the place. It is produced on the main island of Mahé and the small distillery, on a colonial plantation near the capital, makes for a pleasing – if slightly inebriating – afternoon. We are talked through the distilling process by a pleasant young woman while a grumpy brewer gets on with the business of making the hooch. After the short tour there is a longer tasting session. There are six different rums made here and we are made to try each of them. Six shots in six minutes and I am fit for the bed.
On the island of Praslin, a short ferry ride from Mahé, is the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve. This forest of enormously tall Coco de Mer trees is a Unesco World Heritage site.
As we plot our way through the forest in the company of a cheery guide called Sean, fruits dangle perilously from the treetops above. Having just read that more people die in coconut attacks than in shark attacks, I seek reassurance from Sean. It is not forthcoming. He tells me that if one of these 30-pounders falls on me I will not be long for this world. He chuckles as he shares this coconugget.
The Coco de Mer may be a potential killer – in my head if not in reality – but is beloved here and to be found on almost every tourist T-shirt and street sign. Even my passport now bears a stamp in its shape.
The nut itself, by the way, looks bizarrely like a lady’s bottom. Best to be aware of that so you don’t titter inappropriately at a security check-point. They probably don’t like that.
The other must-see spot on the Seychelles is also on Praslin, some 40 minutes from the Coco de Mer forest. Anse Lazio is consistently voted among the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world and it is not hard to see why: crystal clear turquoise water laps a shore of gleaming white sands fringed by lush forest.
This beach made headlines in 2011 for the right and the wrong reasons. Kate and William holidayed nearby after the royal wedding, but that was not the story which attracted most attention. Two separate fatal shark attacks took place off the beach. In the first, a French tourist was killed while snorkelling 20 metres from the shore. Weeks later, an English man on his honeymoon was pulled under and savaged by the same shark. He was dragged onto the sand by some brave holidaymakers but died within minutes.
The shark attacks were the first in the Seychelles for nearly 40 years but had a devastating impact on tourism. The beach was closed for months until shark nets were put in place. All is not quiet in the water here but the nets are still there and, while they do mar the natural beauty of the spot, their presence offers swimmers considerable comfort.
The draw for most people is not, however, cow rides, rum, trucks or even coconuts – but the seaside, and at the Kempinski Seychelles hotel (kempinski.com/seychelles) we get to have a proper taste of just some of what the islands have to offer. After an afternoon sea kayaking, snorkelling and swimming I am sold on the Seychelles.
Guided by Pepe, the hotel’s activities manager, we paddle over to a secluded beach from which only the (absolutely massive) summer house of a Saudi prince is visible. He’s not on his holliers this week so we have the beach to ourselves. I play out some Robinson Crusoe fantasies in my head before Pepe brings me back to earth and under water. The snorkelling here is not as good as in the Maldives – the corals are not nearly as spectacular – but it is still a whole lot better than you will find in most other parts of the world. And that kind of sums the place up. It may not be the best holiday destination in the world, but it is a whole lot better than most.
HOW TO GET THERE
Etihad Airways, tel: 01-6569900; etihad.com, flies 10 times a week between Dublin and Abu Dhabi and offers daily connections to the Seychelles. Return fares start at €839 for economy. If you want to push the boat out, business class return tickets start at about €2,700.
WHERE TO STAY
The Sainte Anne Beachcomber (00248-4292000; sainteanne- resort.com) is a 20-minute boat ride from the airport and has spacious villas a coconut’s throw from the beach.
The Constance Lemuria Resort (00248-4281281; lemuriaresort. constancehotels.com) on Praslin is a swish hotel – the presidential suite is bigger than most Irish houses. The grounds are sprawling and golf buggies are often needed to get from the lobby to your room.
Le Domaine de L’Orangeraie (00248-4299999; orangeraie.sc) Digue’s flagship hotel is ultra-modern and, while you will need to cross a road to get to the beach, the rooms are lovely.